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06 Sep, 2017

Give a Girl a Knife

/ posted in: Reading Give a Girl a Knife Give a Girl a Knife by Amy Thielen
Published by Clarkson Potter Publishers on May 16th 2017
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 320
Format: Audiobook
Source: Playster
Goodreads
Setting: Minnesota/New York
Length: 10:09

A beautifully written food memoir chronicling one cook's journey from her rural Midwestern hometown to the intoxicating world of New York City fine dining and back again in search of her culinary roots.
Before Amy Thielen frantically plated rings of truffled potatoes in some of New York City s finest kitchens for chefs David Bouley, Daniel Boulud, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten she grew up in a northern Minnesota town home to the nation s largest French fry factory, the headwaters of the fast food nation, with a mother whose generous cooking pulsed with joy, family drama, and an overabundance of butter.
Inspired by her grandmother s tales of cooking on the family farm, Thielen moves with her artist husband to the rustic, off-the-grid cabin he built in the woods. There, standing at the stove three times a day, she finds the seed of a growing food obsession that leads to the sensory madhouse of New York s top haute cuisine brigades. When she goes home, she comes face to face with her past, and a curious truth: that beneath every foie gras sauce lies a rural foundation of potatoes and onions, and that taste memory is the most important ingredient of all.


I spent a good portion of this memoir wondering why I listen to books like this.  It is no secret that I like foodie books but why do I listen to books where the lovingly drawn out descriptions of the food make me think, “Oh my god, that sounds disgusting!”

I’m not sure I found an answer to that.  I guess that will be the lot of wanna-be vegans who listen to chef memoirs.  You’ve been warned if descriptions of organ meats and loving talk of bloody juices and fond rememberances of torturing live lobsters bother you.

Amy Thielen was an English major before becoming a chef and it shows in this memoir.  The writing is of a more literary quality than a lot of memoirs.

This book starts with the story of how she and her husband started to live a seasonal existence.  In the summer they were in their off-the-grid cabin in Minnesota with a huge garden and in the winter they lived in New York.  This part of the book ends with their decision to move back to Minnesota full time.

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The next part of the book goes back in time for a series of essays about events that take place before the first section. You never find out what happened after the move back from New York.  I had never heard of the author prior to reading this book so I wasn’t sure what happened besides writing this book.  I guess you are either expected to know that or expected to Google.

I was most fascinated by the story of her husband who actually managed to make a good living as a working artist in New York.  I thought that was a fairy tale.  The story of making a home in the woods was amazing to me.

The author narrates the audiobook which is normally a horrible decision but she did a very good job.  She infuses her story with a lot of emotion as she reads.

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in North America
  • Foodies Read 2017
17 Aug, 2017

Ocean Adventures – Junk Raft and The Soul of an Octopus

/ posted in: Reading Ocean Adventures – Junk Raft and The Soul of an Octopus The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery
Published by Atria Books on May 12th 2015
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 261
Format: Audiobook, Hardcover
Source: Library, Playster
Goodreads
Setting: Massachusetts

Octopuses have varied personalities and intelligence they show in myriad ways: endless trickery to escape enclosures and get food; jetting water playfully to bounce objects like balls; and evading caretakers by using a scoop net as a trampoline and running around the floor on eight arms. But with a beak like a parrot, venom like a snake, and a tongue covered with teeth, how can such a being know anything? And what sort of thoughts could it think?
The intelligence of dogs, birds, and chimpanzees was only recently accepted by scientists, who now are establishing the intelligence of the octopus, watching them solve problems and deciphering the meaning of their color-changing camouflage techniques. Montgomery chronicles this growing appreciation of the octopus, but also tells a love story. By turns funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about consciousness and the meeting of two very different minds.


I love octopuses.  I think they are fascinating.  I’ve never had the chance to meet one though like this author did.  She got to know three octopuses over the course of a few years.  It was amazing to hear about the ways their physiology lets them interact with the world. They can taste with their skin, camouflage even though they are color blind, and work through complex puzzles.

She also lets you get to know the people working behind the scenes in the aquarium who love these animals.

This book is wonderful for anyone who is interested in finding out more about these animals.  I am looking forward to reading more from this author.


Ocean Adventures – Junk Raft and The Soul of an Octopus Junk Raft: An Ocean Voyage and a Rising Tide of Activism to Fight Plastic Pollution by Marcus Eriksen
Published by Beacon Press on July 4th 2017
Pages: 216
Goodreads
Setting: Pacific Ocean

Length: 8:05

News media brought the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch"--the famous swirling gyre of plastic pollution in the ocean--into the public consciousness. But when Marcus Eriksen cofounded the 5 Gyres Institute with his wife, Anna Cummins, and set out to study the world's oceans with hundreds of volunteers, they discovered a "plastic smog" of microscopic debris that permeates our oceans globally, defying simple clean-up efforts. What's more, these microplastics and their toxic chemistry have seeped into the food chain, threatening marine life and humans alike.
Far from being a gloomy treatise on an environmental catastrophe, though, Junk Raft tells the exciting story of Eriksen and his team's fight to solve the problem of plastic pollution. A scientist, activist, and inveterate adventurer, Eriksen is drawn to the sea by a desire to right an environmental injustice. Against long odds and common sense, he and his co-navigator, Joel Paschal, construct a "junk raft" made of plastic trash and set themselves adrift from Los Angeles to Hawaii, with no motor or support vessel, confronting perilous cyclones, food shortages, and a fast decaying raft.


Plastic pollution in the ocean is a huge problem but it doesn’t manifest in exactly the ways that it has been portrayed in the press.  Most of the ocean is polluted with microparticles of plastic that make any clean up operation almost impossible.  The author’s goal is to require companies to take on more of the burden for reusing or recycling plastics they produce.  Now they are freed from responsibility by requiring consumers to recycle if they don’t want the plastic going into a landfill.

This book used the framework of the several month journey on Junk to tell the story of the Earth’s plastic pollution problem.  It is full of ideas for making the problem better but there needs to be buy in from a lot of people to make it happen.

The stories in the book are scary.  So much damage is being done through human carelessness.  Getting the word out about what needs to be done is important.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
27 Jul, 2017

The Gilded Years

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Gilded Years The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe
Published by Simon and Schuster on July 1, 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 379
Format: eBook
Source: Playster
Goodreads
Setting: New York

Since childhood, Anita Hemmings has longed to attend the country’s most exclusive school for women, Vassar College. Now, a bright, beautiful senior in the class of 1897, she is hiding a secret that would have banned her from admission: Anita is the only African-American student ever to attend Vassar. With her olive complexion and dark hair, this daughter of a janitor and descendant of slaves has successfully passed as white, but now finds herself rooming with Louise “Lottie” Taylor, the scion of one of New York’s most prominent families.
Though Anita has kept herself at a distance from her classmates, Lottie’s sphere of influence is inescapable, her energy irresistible, and the two become fast friends. Pulled into her elite world, Anita learns what it’s like to be treated as a wealthy, educated white woman—the person everyone believes her to be—and even finds herself in a heady romance with a moneyed Harvard student. It’s only when Lottie becomes infatuated with Anita’s brother, Frederick, whose skin is almost as light as his sister’s, that the situation becomes particularly perilous. And as Anita’s college graduation looms, those closest to her will be the ones to dangerously threaten her secret.


I loved this story of a woman trying to get an education at Vassar before they accepted African-American students.  Her life is compared and contrasted to the life of her brother who was enrolled as a Negro student at newly desegregated MIT.  Where he is able to live relatively freely because the racists just ignored and/or avoided him, her attempts to keep from drawing attention to herself were thwarted by a roommate who is determined to be best friends.  Lottie drags Anita into a high class social life and introduces her to people who she knows wouldn’t talk to her if they knew she was black.

The book addresses the pain of having to cut family members out of your life if you are passing.

The author did a good job of incorporating the views of many different types of people – black people who saw this as a practical way to get an education, black people who wanted her to be a vocal proponent for civil rights, white people both for and against desegregation, and white people who were against bigotry until events touched their lives.

What I found most remarkable about this story is that it is based on real events.  I wasn’t surprised by a woman passing as white to attend a segregated college but I was surprised about some of the details that seemed a bit over the top that turned out to be based in reality.  I can’t discuss it all because of spoilers but make sure to read the historical note at the end.

A good companion to this book would be:

 A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in AmericaA Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in America by Allyson Hobbs

“Between the eighteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, countless African Americans passed as white, leaving behind families and friends, roots and community. It was, as Allyson Hobbs writes, a chosen exile, a separation from one racial identity and the leap into another. This revelatory history of passing explores the possibilities and challenges that racial indeterminacy presented to men and women living in a country obsessed with racial distinctions. It also tells a tale of loss.”

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
25 Jul, 2017

The Dreamhealers Series by MCA Hogarth

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Dreamhealers Series by MCA Hogarth Mindtouch by M.C.A. Hogarth
Series: Dreamhealers #1
Published by Studio MCAH on June 15, 2013
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 426
Format: eBook
Source: Owned, Playster
Goodreads

Seersana University is worlds-renowned for its xenopsychology program, producing the Alliance's finest therapists, psychiatric nurses and alien researchers. When Jahir, one of the rare and reclusive Eldritch espers, arrives on campus, he's unprepared for the challenges of a vast and multicultural society... but fortunately, second-year student Vasiht'h is willing to take him under his wing. Will the two win past their troubles and doubts and see the potential for a once-in-a-lifetime partnership?


M.C.A. Hogarth’s Pelted Universe is a place where humans genetically engineered human/animal hybrids.  These “pelted people” eventually fled from the humans on Earth out into space.  They set up a peaceful multicultural society across planets as life on Earth regressed.  Once humans started exploring space again, they found the species that they created had developed a rich society.

That is the premise for several series that she has written in this universe.  I read the series that starts with Earthrise last year so I was familiar with the world.  That series has a lot more action than this one.  I’m glad I started there to get a sense of the universe.  This series is very different.  It is a very quiet and sweet story two members of empathic species that form a deep bond.

The Eldrich are a mysterious humanoid species.  They have chosen to self-isolate on their planet.  They can read a person’s mind if they touch them so accidental touch is avoided at all cost.  They are also very long lived.  Their society is one of court intrigue and careful deception.  Few leave the planet and those that do are forbidden to talk about the society.

Jahir is an Eldrich who is studying for a xenopsychology degree.  He finds an unexpected roommate in Vasiht’h, a small centaur-like Galeash.  The Galeash speak mostly mind to mind.  They are aromantic and asexual-spectrum.  Vasiht’h takes Jahir under his wing to show him around the university.  They start to develop a bond that Vasiht’h has only heard about in stories – a mindline.  It is a very deep platonic bond between two soul mate empaths.  What will this mean for their lives?  Should they let this form if Jahir is going to live for centuries after Vasiht’h dies?

This book reads like a sweet romance novel without the romance.  Not much actually happens.  They make friends, go to school, volunteer, bake cookies, and eat ice cream.  I loved it though.  I’ve never read a book that celebrates aromantic relationships.  They are deciding if they are going to be life partners.


The Dreamhealers Series by MCA Hogarth Mindline by M.C.A. Hogarth
Series: Dreamhealers #2
Published by Studio MCAH on December 14, 2013
Pages: 316
Goodreads

At the advice of Vasiht'h, his first and truest friend, Jahir Seni Galare has accepted one of the most coveted residencies in xenotherapy, even though doing so has severed him from all the relationships he's fostered since leaving his cloistered homeworld. But not all the simulations at school have prepared him for the reality of being an esper in a hospital large enough to serve the winter capital of the entire Alliance, and it's not long before he's questioning the wisdom of having left the university for the tumult of one of the largest port cities in the known worlds.

When Vasiht'h follows Jahir to Selnor, he's not sure whether his plan is to help his friend survive his residency, or to drag him back to Seersana University and into a less strenuous program. But a storm is coming to Heliocentrus, one they're uniquely positioned to address, and their nascent mental link is about to receive its first test in the crucible that will either forge their lifelong partnership—or kill them both.

This is the most action packed of the books.  They have started to get an idea of what they can do to help mental health while working with dreaming patients.  Now there is a series of comatose patients who present to the emergency department where Jahir is working.  No medical intervention is helping and they all die.  He is determined to help them but touching them when they are dying is draining the life from Jahir.

This book does a good job of addressing the need for self-care in healing professions. He is sick and working with these patients is harming him but what is his responsibility?


The Dreamhealers Series by MCA Hogarth Dreamhearth by M.C.A. Hogarth
Series: Dreamhealers #3
Published by Studio MCAH on July 7, 2017
Goodreads

Jahir and Vasiht’h have earned their licenses as xenotherapists at last, and they have their hearts set on starting their practice in one of the Alliance’s most exciting and cosmopolitan destinations: a sector starbase. But dream therapy is a revolutionary treatment modality, and as esper practictioners they will have to work hard to win the trust of their community. Not only that, but they have a deadline: if they can’t prove themselves an asset to the starbase within six months, they’ll have to leave!

I hadn’t noticed until I wrote this review that this book was just published.  I guess I picked the right time to binge read the series!

One cute touch in this book is a novel that Vasiht’h‘s sisters give him to read.  It is supposedly a romance story between an Eldrich woman and a Pelted man.  They make fun of it through the novel for being poorly written.  The story was actually one of the first stories the author wrote as a teenager when she was imaging this universe.  It was never published because of the all the huge problems that the characters make fun of.  It was a funny touch.

More ice cream in this book and now there are scones in different flavors every day! 

This is still a quiet series where not a lot happens but it is fun to just learn about these characters and the people who they help. 

About M.C.A. Hogarth

Daughter of two Cuban political exiles, M.C.A. Hogarth was born a foreigner in the American melting pot and has had a fascination for the gaps in cultures and the bridges that span them ever since. She has been many things—-web database architect, product manager, technical writer and massage therapist—-but is currently a full-time parent, artist, writer and anthropologist to aliens, both human and otherwise.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
  • POC authors
07 Jul, 2017

Sweet Spot – Getting Serious about Ice Cream

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Sweet Spot – Getting Serious about Ice Cream Sweet Spot: An Ice Cream Binge Across America by Amy Ettinger
Published by Dutton Books on July 11th 2017
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 320
Format: Audiobook
Source: Playster
Goodreads

Length: 8:27
Narrator: Kathleen Mcinerney

A journalist channels her ice-cream obsession, scouring the United States for the best artisanal brands and delving into the surprising history of ice cream and frozen treats in America.


Amy Ettinger is obsessed with ice cream.  She says that she routinely eats ice cream 1 – 2 times a day.  She’s the perfect person to go on an exploration of the state of ice cream in the United States.

In her journey she rides along on an ice cream truck route in New York.  I had no idea that being an ice cream truck driver was such a dangerous job.  The woman she was riding with freely admits to getting into fist fights with other drivers that she sees driving in the same neighborhoods as she does.

She visits frozen custard makers in Wisconsin to find out why true frozen custard is regional speciality.  She investigates the rise of new soda shops and discusses the sometimes poisonous history of soda shops.  She finds out what is behind the newest experiments with ice cream flavors – celery or foie gras or mealworms anyone?  She also tries a revival of Dolley Madison’s recipe for oyster ice cream.

She wonders how frozen yogurt stores fit into the ice cream world and investigates the largest chains.  She goes to Penn State’s ice cream course to find out how to make ice cream.  (I will say that Penn State makes some amazing ice cream.  It made all my trips there bearable back when I could eat it.)

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She seems shocked to find out that because of federal regulations most ice cream shops don’t make their own base for the ice cream.  They just add the flavors.  She gets very judgy about it.  Likewise she is horrified that ice cream sandwich makers outsource making the sandwiches.  I found it hard to believe that anyone was actually this naive about how foods are made in the U.S.

If you like books that give you a culinary tour, this is a good book for you.

I just have a few complaints.

  • She points out that people in the midwest are fat and wonders if we have different standards of beauty than in California.  It is a totally passive-aggressive insult to an entire region.
  • I cringed anytime she referred to sandwiches as “sammies”.  Can that please not be a thing anymore?
  • She is absolutely dismissive of the idea of non-dairy ice cream.  As a non-dairy eater, I assure her that just like dairy ice cream, some are horrible and some are amazing.  I offer Ben and Jerry’s PB & Cookies as proof of awesomeness.

Kathleen Mcinerney does a wonderfully upbeat and perky narration that fits the subject matter perfectly.

 

About Amy Ettinger

Amy Ettinger is an essayist, journalist, and editor. She has written for the New York Times, New York magazine, The Washington Post, Salon, and the Huffington Post. She lives in Santa Cruz, California, with her husband and daughter.

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in North America

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